Understanding of residents’ needs and aspirations central to slum upgrading, say urban practitioners

Local and international actors working on slum upgrading have emphasised the importance of understanding the wide range of views of residents when working to improve the standard of living in urban areas.

The comments were made at an international meeting called 'Change by Design' which was held at the UN Headquarters in Nairobi in June, and co-organised by Architecture Sans Frontieres UK (ASF-UK), The Pamoja Trust, and UN-HABITAT's Housing Policy Section. The event is part of UN-HABITAT's Shelter Initiative for Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation (SICCMA) which aims to contribute to the development of affordable housing that is also sensitive to the environment and social and cultural advancement.

More than 100 participants, including 25 international experts and architecture practitioners, participated in the one-day symposium which focused on the institutional, urban and architectural opportunities and constraints to developing participatory community-led slum upgrading programmes.

Different approaches to participatory design in slum upgrading projects were tested and participants built on practical models that have been adopted in slum upgrading work globally. The conference featured international perspectives and insights from local and international NGOs, the Kenyan Ministry of Housing, academics, and practitioners, as well as local experiences from the University of Nairobi, and communities from Nairobi's informal settlements.

The presentations and discussions demonstrated the importance of searching for consensus when developing upgrading plans through the participation of residents in the upgrading plans that will affect their lives, livelihoods and future.  Speakers also reinforced the need for further research, policy development, and dialogue, as well as practical tools to engage slum communities in upgrading programmes to improve the conditions in existing slums and scale-up affordable housing supply to prevent the growth of new slums.

The meeting paved the way for a two week action research workshop in Mathare-Mashimoni (Nairobi) to establish a replicable grassroots participatory design methodology that can inform slum upgrading programmes in Kenya and beyond.


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